A Remarkable Story
The picture featured today has always been known as ‘Dog Talk,’ and some versions are listed as ‘Two men at the bar with dog’. At the ‘Shapes of Cornish’ exhibition in 2016 at the Greenfield Gallery in Newton Aycliffe, a silence descended over the invited guests for the ‘private view’ as they prepared to hear the opening remarks from a local dignitary…. a former resident of Spennymoor and friend of Cornish. He caught sight of that particular picture in the corner of the gallery and immediately abandoned his prepared comments as he exclaimed to the astonishment of the guests, ”I know those two, Joe Hughes and Tosser Angus!” The local dignitary then proceeded with what can best be described as a remarkable story
As young teenagers, they both worked underground at Whitworth Colliery in Spennymoor and life was hard. The lads were also members of the Territorial Army and one of the attractions of being in the TA was the annual camp at the end of August that in 1939 was held at Scarborough. With WW2 being imminent both men were immediately conscripted as full- time soldiers into the Durham Light Infantry, rather than the reserved occupations such as coal mining at Whitworth Colliery. The men saw action in France and Belgium before being evacuated from Dunkirk, and were amongst the last of the men to leave the beaches in ‘C’ Company 6th Battalion DLI. They subsequently saw action throughout WW2 at Mareth (hand to hand fighting) Tunisia, and Primasole Bridge during the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.
Fortunately, both men survived without a scratch and returned home to resume their lives working underground at Whitworth Colliery.
The dog at their side was no ordinary dog….His name was Piper- following the tradition of dogs being named after musical instruments in the DLI. Piper was acquired by Joe as a pup to ‘settle a debt’ and eventually became one of the top racing greyhounds in England, travelling countrywide in order to compete. From the cash ‘winnings,’ gained by Piper, Joe Hughes and his wife were able to indulge themselves in a holiday to Rome.
The story and the images are all featured in ‘Behind The Scenes: The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks’ and they provide another example of Cornish’s creative process of fine tuning the composition, but also the characters being worked into the much larger bar scenes that are often referred to as ‘conversation pieces,’ where the subjects appear to interact with each other.
Throughout the centenary year, an interesting range of themed exhibitions is planned in order to commemorate Norman’s life and to celebrate his work.
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